James H. and Alcoholics Anonymous
By Wally P. Archivist, Historian,
During the past five years, I
have been asked on numerous occasions to answer specific questions about
James H.. The three questions that come up the most are:
Is James H. a member of A.A.?
Is James H. a recovering alcoholic?
Is James H. a member of the Oxford
Sometimes there are no easy answers
even when the questions seem to be simple and straightforward. This
is certainly the case when trying to explain the relationship of James
H., the Back to Basics Beginners' Meetings, and Alcoholics
Although there are now more than
2,000 Back to Basics Beginners' Groups throughout the
world which have produced more than 100,000 recoveries, there are still
people within the A.A. community who are unfamiliar with this "original"
meeting format or the role James H. has played in bringing this highly
successful "design for living" back to the fellowship. James is the
last living link to the spiritual roots of the Alcoholics Anonymous
program that produced a 75% recovery rate from alcoholism.
Many people today know very little
about the early days, except for what they have read or what they have
heard from some "old-timers" (actually newcomers compared to James H.)
who sobered up in the 1970's. They don't realize that the program of
the 1970's was quite different from the "original" program of the 1940's.
The program has continued to change over the years and has reached a
point where today A.A. has only a 5-10% recovery rate, depending upon
which study you read.
Figures published by GSO show
that the fellowship peaked in 1992 at 2.2 million members and has declined
20% since then. Prior to the 1990's, the fellowship doubled in membership
every ten years. The objective of Back to Basics is to
reverse this decline by reintroducing the "original" Beginners' Meetings
that worked for three out of every four people who entered the rooms
of Alcoholics Anonymous.
James H. is truly a unique individual.
He is ninety-five years old, sixty-six years sober, and one of the greatest
"life-changers" of the past one hundred years.
Just like Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob
Smith, and the other "Big Book" authors, James H. found God and sobriety
in the Oxford Group. And, just like Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, and
the other "Big Book" authors, James had his spiritual awakening as the
direct result of taking the Oxford Group Four Steps of Surrender, Sharing,
Restitution and Guidance.
James attended Oxford Group meetings
with Bill Wilson in Frederick, MD from 1935-1937. The Oxford Group considered
all addictions to be equally detrimental in terms of cutting a person
off from God. There was no more emphasis on alcohol than there was on
smoking, womanizing, or drug addiction. All of these behaviors left
us in the dark relying on self-will, rather than God's will to solve
our problems. The Group believed that self could not overcome self.
Only God could remove our addictions and afflictions, provided we established
an intimate two-way relationship with Him. In 1937, Bill left the Group
to work full time with alcoholics.
As James explains it, when Bill
Wilson left the Oxford he didn't take all the drunks with him. James
remained in the Oxford Group, as did Rowland Hazard, Cebra Graves, Victor
Kitchen, and Charles Clapp among others. In fact, Dr. Bob didn't leave
the Group until 1940; almost a year after the "Big Book" was written.
James is the only person alive
today who has first hand knowledge of the material Bill Wilson and the
other "Big Book" authors used to write the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
On numerous occasions, he has stated that the "Big Book" is Oxford Group
literature written for a specific segment of the Oxford Group fellowship.
Although James stayed in the Oxford
Group, he did have contact with the early A.A. fellowship through Sam
Shoemaker, a mutual friend of his and Bill Wilson's. Sam Shoemaker was
the rector of the Calvary Church in New York City, which was the United
States headquarters of the Oxford Group. Bill Wilson attended Oxford
Group meetings at the Calvary Church and Sam was instrumental in assisting
Bill Wilson with the writing of the "Big Book" Bill acknowledged this
linkage when he wrote on page 39 of A.A. Comes of Age:
"The early A.A. got its ideas
of self-examination, acknowledgment of character defects, restitution
for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups
and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and
from nowhere else."
Since the Oxford Group had been
responsible for his spiritual awakening, James remained with the fellowship
even after it changed its name to Moral Re-Armament in 1938. He didn't
attend A.A. meetings until the 1980's when he was working with a grandson
who had a drinking problem. At these meetings, he saw people practicing
a program that did not even remotely resemble the "original" program
of the 1940's. That's when he started to speak at A.A. events about
the early days of the fellowship.
James H. does not consider himself
to be a recovering alcoholic. The term "recovering" is belittling, it
refers to someone still struggling with the problem rather than living
in the solution. It is an expression that evolved from the treatment
centers in the 1970's. This is how James describes his recovery:
"To me 'recovering' means you
haven't made the grade yet. You're still not sure of your position.
"I am absolutely sure of my
position. God took alcohol out of my life on December 12, 1934, and
when God took alcohol out of my life, He took it out forever."
James is a recovered alcoholic,
which is the term used by Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and the A.A. pioneers.
The word can be found seventeen times in the first 164 pages of the
"Big Book." In addition, James sometimes refers to himself as an
ex-alcoholic. This expression was used in the first ten printings
of the first edition of the "Big Book." In 1947, "ex-alcoholic"
was changed to "ex-problem drinker."
James does not identify himself
as an alcoholic from the podium. Here again he follows the precedent
set by Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith and the A.A. pioneers. Neither Bill
nor Dr. Bob ever identified themselves as alcoholics when speaking at
A.A. meetings. To verify this all you have to do is listen to the audio
tape recordings of their speeches. The ritual of identifying oneself
as an alcoholic, followed by a chant from the audience of "Hi _______,"
also came from the treatment centers decades after the fellowship came
into being. It is not a part of the "original" A.A. program.
James does not claim to be the
oldest living member of A.A. because he does not want, in any way, to
overshadow those who have maintained continuous sobriety after the fellowship
was formed in the spring of 1939. Therefore, Duke P. of Jacksonville
Florida is the oldest member of A.A. with a sobriety date of 8/15/40,
even though Duke's sobriety date is almost six years after James=.
This is also the reason James
uses his last name when speaking at A.A. events. He downplays his membership
in A.A. to avoid being considered the oldest living member of the fellowship.
Keep in mind that James H., Bill
Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith all found permanent sobriety in the Oxford
Group. If we say that James H.'s sobriety date isn't important because
he sobered up in the Oxford Group, then we must say the same thing about
Bill and Dr. Bob.
This has been a lengthy explanation
of several very simple questions. In summary:
Is James H. a member of A.A.?
Yes, he is as much a member of A.A. as anyone else who has a desire
to stop drinking. However, for James the compulsion to drink was successfully
removed on December 12, 1934. He has not had a drink of alcohol or
taken a mood altering substance (including nicotine) since that day.
James has an A.A. home group. It meets on Thursday nights at the Towson,
MD Methodist church.
Is James H. a recovering alcoholic?
No. James H., Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith all had drinking problems,
which they overcame in the Oxford Group as the direct result of taking
the Four Steps of Surrender, Sharing, Restitution, and Guidance. Since
December 12, 1934, James has been a recovered alcoholic or
Is James H. a member of the
James H. was a member of the Oxford Group in the 1930's and is a member
of Moral Re-Armament today. He is also a member of the Hunt Valley
Rotary Club and the Towson, MD Methodist Church.
Although the Oxford Group, as
such, does not physically exist anymore, the principles of the Group
are just as valuable as a "design for living" today as they were in
the 1930's. Both James H. and I apply the Four Standards of Honesty,
Purity, Unselfishness and Love to our thoughts, words and deeds; use
Restitution to become life-changers; and rely upon the Guidance of God
to direct every area of our lives. In this sense, the Oxford Group is
alive within each and every person who practices the "original" A.A.
program in order to witness once again the miraculous results obtained
by our A.A. pioneers.
-- The James H. Scrapbook!
James after surgery on 12/3/01
BARRIERS TO BRIDGES
April 16,17 & 18 1999 Wally
P. and James H. presented Barriers
to Bridges - Changing the World One Life at a Time
at the Wilson House in East Dorset, VT. Just as his book,
Back to Basics - The Alcoholics Anonymous
Beginners’ Meetings is a return to the
spiritual roots of A.A., Wally
P’s forthcoming book, How to Listen
to God is a return to the
spiritual roots of the Oxford Group.
the Oxford Groups Four Spiritual Principles
of Surrender (Steps 1,2, & 3),
Sharing (Steps 4,5,6,
& 7), Restitution
(Steps 8 & 9) and Guidance
(Steps 10,11 & 12). Each person in attendance practiced two
way prayer and shared their guidance from God. This was most certainly
a life changing event.
to Bridges was the re-enactment of an Oxford Group
Houseparty. The meetings were hosted by
James H., who has been
an Oxford Group member for over 70 years.
His sobriety date in the Oxford group is 12/12/34,
the day after Bill Wilson checked into Towns Hospital.
Jimmy Budd, one of the
attendees at the Wilson House, had this to say about James
"James is 94 years
old. We must preserve his story for the millions yet to come. In reality,
he is the 'elder of the tribe'."
"In the past three
years alone, tens of thousands of lives have been changed as the result
of Back to Basics. He is the person who started it all."
Wally P., has completed
a book How to Listen to God detailing his experiences
with James H. during the past three years. The book is
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